What's In Blue

Mosul: Consultations on the Humanitarian Situation and Alleged Chemical Weapons Attack

Tomorrow afternoon (10 March), Council members will meet in consultations on the situation in and around Mosul, Iraq. Briefings are expected from OCHA head Stephen O’Brien and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-soo. Russia requested the meeting earlier this week in light of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Mosul and the alleged use of chemical weapons.

Humanitarian needs in Mosul continue to grow as Iraqi government forces make steady progress towards retaking the remaining parts of the city still under control of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In January, three months after the military operation began, Iraqi government forces, with the US-led anti-ISIL coalition providing air support, regained control over the eastern part of Mosul. As a result, some 160,000 people were displaced, while an estimated 750,000 people who were trapped in the western part of Mosul faced dire humanitarian consequences. O’Brien last briefed Council members on the humanitarian situation under “any other business” on 4 January, following a request by Russia.

Council members are expected to express concern about the latest surge in the displacement of civilians and further deterioration of the humanitarian situation. On 19 February, Iraqi government forces launched an offensive on the remaining ISIL stronghold in western Mosul and made steady gains. O’Brien is likely to update Council members on the latest humanitarian needs. According to OCHA estimates, in the first week of March some 42,000 people have been displaced, and on 3 March over 13,000 were displaced in a single day making it the highest continuous displacement so far. OCHA and the UN Refugee Agency have reported that around 250,000 people in total have been displaced since the start of the military operation on 17 October 2016. Although about 64,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned to their area of origin, there are still an estimated 211,000 IDPs living in refugee camps run by the Iraqi government and various humanitarian agencies.

In addition to the humanitarian situation, Council members are likely to share their concern over the alleged use of chemical weapons in Mosul. On 3 March, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Health Organization both reported that 12 people including children from eastern Mosul were treated for exposure to a toxic chemical agent. Council members will be keen to hear more details from Kim, given that there is still no official confirmation regarding the type of chemical agent used and who was responsible for the attack. This incident marks the first recorded use of chemical weapons since the start of the military operation to take Mosul. According to media reports, ISIL in Iraq has been suspected of access to and use of some forms of chemical weapons. In a statement following the attack, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, said that there needs to be an investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons. She said that if confirmed, such an attack would be a war crime and a serious violation of international humanitarian law. Some Council members may raise the possibility of investigation of the incident.

In comparison to the humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen, the Council has been relatively unengaged regarding the humanitarian situation in Iraq. This will be only the third meeting on the humanitarian situation in Mosul since the start of the military operation by the Iraqi government in October 2016. Though the Council members seem open to occasional updates on the humanitarian situation, there seems to be little willingness on the part of members to engage on the issue more substantively. With regard to ISIL, the Council has been very active on this issue in the context of its work on counter-terrorism, while the security response to ISIL has remained outside Council’s purview. However, if the current case of alleged use of chemical weapons is confirmed or should new cases be recorded the Council could potentially become more engaged on this issue.

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